“Simple church” (HT: Thom Rainer) doesn’t happen unintentionally. No church drifts into simplicity. Currents take a church towards complexity. Towards an increasing number of functions, events, and opportunities to “go to church.” Since each of these events is linked with a grand idea, a dynamic leader, and the heart of a person who wants to lead people to Jesus, they’re incredibly difficult to stop even when the timing is right.
“Simple” churches give families the time to invest in one another. Time to serve their community. Time to enjoy a Sunday Sabbath. Time to minister to their neighbors. Time to invite people into their home. Time to be the church, rather than simply go to church.
Complex churches give people “Christian Fatigue Syndrome,” wearing people out with good things and not freeing them up to do what’s best. When people are hit with CFS, they become desensitized to authentic worship, boil evangelism down to sharing a tract, and treat biblical community as just another activity on their already-too-busy schedules rather than the life-giving gift God intended it to be.
Now in order to evoke a better motive from the heart of this legal-minded man, Jesus tells him a story. (read 30-37)
As you know, the Jews hated Samaritans. The Samaritans were their enemies. So you might think that the point of the passage is this: Who is my neighbor? Even the Samaritans are your neighbors. You must repent of your racism. You must love not only those who love you but you must love those who you regard as your enemies as well. Now that’s true, of course, but Jesus is saying something even more radical. For if the point had been to tell this Jewish expert in the law that he needed to love Samaritans, you would expect Jesus to put the Samaritan half dead in the ditch and the Jew in the saddle passing by. Then the expert in the law would have had to think to himself, “Well, I want to just ride over this disgusting Samaritan and finish him off, but I suppose Jesus is right, I suppose I should have compassion on even this abominable half breed” But Jesus didn’t tell the story that way, because then he would have just been giving this legalist another duty to perform by which he could hope to justify himself.
So Jesus does something even more amazing than tell this man to love Samaritans. He makes the Samaritan the hero of the story. He puts the Samaritan in the saddle and the Jew in the ditch. It totally changes the way you think about this passage when you realize that you’re in the ditch and not in the saddle.
Jesus doesn’t answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” because it’s the wrong question. The right question is “How can I be a neighbor to others?” and in answering that Jesus says, “Imagine that you were lying half dead in a ditch and your only hope was to be shown mercy by an enemy who owes you nothing. Consider how you would hope to be treated and then go and do likewise.”
And this is not just hypothetical. The fact is that you were that man in the ditch. You were dying and the only reason you now live is that while you were still an enemy of God, he sent his Son to be a neighbor to you. To bind up your wounds, to pay all your expenses, and to do so at great cost to himself. Only when we see in Jesus the true Neighbor and are melted by what he has done for us, only then will we become a neighbor to others. That’s the motive that empowers love in a way that guilt and self-justification never can.
So we can conclude that it is the love of Jesus for us that should be the model for our loving our neighbors. This principle goes a long way toward answering all the objections that arise in our minds to pursuing ministries of mercy to the poor. Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon in which he answered the following objections to Christian charity.
1) I don’t want to give to a particular poor person because he is rude and ungrateful. But remember that God sent His Son to be a neighbor to you even though Romans 1 says that you did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.
2) I don’t want to give to a particular poor person because the reason he’s poor is his own laziness and debauchery. He’s drank away or gambled away all his money. His poverty is self-inflicted. But remember, says Edwards, that “Christ hath loved us, pitied us, and greatly laid out himself to relieve us from that want and misery which we brought on ourselves by our own folly and wickedness.” So Edwards concludes that “if they are come to poverty by a vicious idleness and prodigality, yet we are not thereby excused from all obligation to relieve them, unless they continue in those vices.” In other words, just because a man’s poverty is a result of their foolishness doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help him. But if you give him money and he spends it on drugs, then don’t give him any more money unless he gets in rehab. But Edwards also reminds us in this case that “if they continue in the same courses still, yet that doth not excuse us from charity to their families that are innocent.”
3) I can’t give to the poor because I can’t afford it. Edwards points out that when we say this what we really mean is that we cannot help the poor without it forcing us to change our lifestyle. If we give anymore than we are currently giving it will cause us a little suffering and we don’t want to suffer.
Edwards writes, “In many cases we may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves….we should be willing to suffer with him, and to take part of his burden on ourselves; else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we never be obliged to relieve others burdens, but when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all.” We must give until it hurts a little, otherwise we are not bearing the burdens of our neighbors.
Now I know that you probably have many more questions about how exactly we should go about showing love to our neighbors. So I want to invite you to discuss this with me for the next few months every Sunday morning from 9:30-10:15am. We’ll start in a few weeks when the students return. I will be leading a Sunday school class through Tim Keller’s book Ministries of Mercy. I’m going to be ordering some copies of the book, so let me know if you would like one. I’m hoping most of the participants in the class will read the book.
Today I will conclude by reminding you if you are feeling guilty about how little you love your neighbor as yourself that you need to knock that off. You are not justified by your love for your neighbor, you are justified by faith alone. You don’t need to feel guilty, you don’t need to make excuses, you don’t need to compare yourself with others, you don’t need to convince anyone that you’re doing the best you can. Just reflect on the love of Christ for you and then go and do likewise to others.
The ministry of the gospel is both word and deed. We have spent a long time studying the word. We have for three years been in Romans learning to rejoice in the good news that the righteousness God demands from us he has now given to us in Jesus. And so I pray again that we, the guilt-free fellowship of the non-condemned, will be exemplary in our love for our neighbors. For the key to overcoming neighbor-avoidance behavior is the good news that we are justified by faith alone. We are free indeed. Let us use our freedom to love our neighbors and to serve one another in love.
Now I’m going to ask you to open your Bibles to Luke chapter 10 where I’ll begin reading in verse 25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Perhaps you’ve read somewhere before that the Jews were not all that concerned with questions of individual salvation and the afterlife. Perhaps you’ve been told that their concern was more about earthly blessedness and the future ofIsraelas a nation. Don’t believe it. Clearly this expert in the law was concerned about whether or not he would inherit eternal life. Eternal life is not just a concern of Greek philosophy, it is a human concern. Every human being, be they Jew or Greek, is concerned about the eternal state of their soul and that is what this man questions Jesus about.
But this man’s question is also a trap. He is putting Jesus to the test. He wants Jesus to say something like “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned.” He wants to expose Jesus as an antinomian, a slacker when it comes to the law. But Jesus does what we should all do when we are asked a trick question. He answers it with another question. “He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Simple, huh? That’s all you have to do to inherit eternal life. All you have to do is love God with your whole heart. Halfhearted love won’t do. No competing idols will be tolerated. You must love God with your whole heart if you want to inherit eternal life. So do that and then there’s just one other thing. You need to love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself. So think about all the time and energy and money that you pour into the meeting of your own needs and the pursuit of your own happiness and then do all that for your neighbor. That’s all you have to do. Do that and you will live.
You have answered correctly, Lawman! Indeed you are an expert in the law. You have penetrated to its heart and summarized exactly what is required of you. So now, Jesus says, alluding to the words of Lev 18.5 that Paul also quotes when he deals with these same issues of law and gospel, just do that and you will live.
Now this expert in the law is at a crossroads. He knows that he doesn’t love his neighbor as he loves himself. So what is he going to do? He could do one of two things. He could fall at Jesus’ feet and confess his sins and plead for mercy and be justified by faith alone. Or he could try to justify himself. And like we all have at one time or another, he chose plan B and sought to justify himself. Luke 10:29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Do you see what he’s doing by asking this question? He’s trying to dumb down the requirement to make it doable. He’s thinking, “obviously I can’t love everybody as I love myself, so maybe I can get Jesus to explain this requirement in a way that will make it more manageable.” He’s looking for a loophole. Note it well: His need to justify himself, his need to convince himself that he is in the right forces him to regard most people as not his neighbor. He is forced to regard the needs of most people as not his concern because if he does accept responsibility for meeting the needs of his neighbor he will be crushed by the guilt. He has to define loving his neighbor as something within his own power so that he can do it and justify himself.
So here’s the money sentence. Are you ready for it? Here’s the sentence that I pray will define the second half of my life and ministry. I conclude from Luke 10:29 that the key to overcoming neighbor-avoidance behavior is believing in justification by faith alone. (2x)
We all engage in neighbor-avoidance behavior. We all try to tell ourselves that we are not responsible to care for the needs of people around us. And the reason we do this is that we are trying to justify ourselves. We are trying to convince ourselves that we are in the right. As I was writing this paragraph Friday in Starbucks I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt that said “I love it when I’m right.” We all want to be right. And if we think too much about the needs of our neighbors, we don’t feel right about ourselves anymore. So we push those thoughts out of our minds. We can’t bear the burdens of others because we are still carrying around the burden of our own guilt. We don’t spend our time and energy loving our neighbors because we are spending all our time and energy justifying ourselves.
But here’s the good news. You don’t have to be right to inherit eternal life. If you will confess your sins to Jesus and trust in his death on the cross as the sufficient payment of the penalty for your selfishness, then you will be declared righteous through faith. The good news is that the righteousness that God requires from you he gives to you in Jesus. Jesus loved God the Father with all his heart, and Jesus loved his neighbor even to the point of leaving heaven to come to earth and die on a cross for us. And that perfect righteousness is imputed to you when you are united to Christ through faith.
Now if you believe that, then you can be free from the need for self-justification. So when you hear the radical command to love your neighbor as yourself, you no longer need to explain it away. You can just do it. Not perfectly, of course, but much more radically. When you are freed from the need to love perfectly you are enabled to love more radically. You are free to try and fail and try again to love your neighbor as yourself. When you realize that you are not justified by your love for your neighbor, then you are able to love your neighbors out of better motives than self-justification.
a sermon on Luke 10:25-37 preached 12/30/2007:
I love to preach the New Year’s sermon. The Advent series is over but since so many are out of town I don’t want to go back to Romans yet. So on the Sunday between Christmas and New Years I get to preach whatever I feel like preaching. I pick something that I’ve been thinking about all year and the task of preaching about it is very helpful to me for it forces me to organize some fresh thoughts.
This year I am particularly excited about this opportunity, for my thoughts about ministry have been changing a lot this year. I hope you will still like me when the transformation is complete. I’m sure that, as always, reviews will be mixed.
This year’s sermon is also especially significant for me because I just turned 40. So I am more aware than ever that this is the first sermon of the rest of my life.
So let me begin by describing in general terms how my philosophy of ministry has been changing recently and then in a few minutes we’ll come to the text and you’ll have a better understanding of why on this occasion I have chosen this particular text.
Basically, I’m coming to see more clearly that the ministry of the gospel must be carried out in both word and deed and I’m craving less talk and more action. Of course, I’ve always believed that we should spur one another on to love and good deeds. But, and I am ashamed to admit this, I used to think of good deeds as just a kind of advertisement for the preaching. Now there are some verses that say this. In Titus we are told to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior by our good deeds. It is true that when people see our good deeds they will be drawn to our message. But that is not the only value of good deeds. I am now convinced that neither word nor deed should be seen as a means to the end of the other. Rather, word and deed are the two rails on which thekingdomofGodmoves forward. Social concern without orthodoxy is not true social concern, it doesn’t get to the root of human need. But we can also say that orthodoxy without social concern is not orthodoxy.
One of the passages that the Lord impressed upon me at this year’s elders retreat was Isaiah 1:13, 17 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. …. learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
Lest our worship be a vain offering, I want to learn to do good. I want to learn how to seek justice. As we saw this summer in Psalm 146, justice in the Bible is not just retributive justice, the punishment of the evildoer, it also includes distributive justice, feeding and clothing the poor. Psalm 146 describes God as the Doer of justice for the oppressed, the Giver of food to the hungry.
The trees burst into song when He comes to judge the earth, for his justice means not only the punishment of the wicked, but also the lifting up of the poor from the ash heap. And his kingdom of justice has in fact already been inaugurated in this world. The church is to be an outpost of the comingkingdomofGod. And so when we do justice in this world we are ambassadors of the coming King. Not only through our preaching but also through deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.
Now I don’t mean to diminish the importance of the ministry of the word. In fact, to keep myself from going astray as I pass through these midlife changes, I’ve decided to have my devotions for a while in the pastoral epistles. And the strong impression I get from 1 Timothy 1 is that the most important thing a shepherd can do for the sheep is to protect them from wolves. The most important task of an elder is keeping watch for false teachers. An elder must be able to refute those who contradict the truth. An elder is entrusted with guarding the good deposit, the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Doctrine is essential. If we just become a bunch of activist do-gooders with no message to proclaim this church will die! But that’s not the danger we’re facing. No, the false teaching that we must contradict is the heresy that says that good works are optional. We must become doers of the word and not hearers only lest we deceive ourselves says James who also says five verses later that the religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. Or as John says in 1John 3.18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
I think that I really used to have some Gnostic errors in my philosophy of ministry of which I am now repenting. Gnosticism is the belief in salvation through knowledge rather than salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. And although I would never have admitted it to myself, I think that deep down I believed that if I could just understand and explain Reformed theology clearly enough we would thereby be magically transformed into people who love like Jesus loved. But thanks to the internet, I’ve now encountered dozens of people who seem to have a more thorough knowledge of Reformed theology than I do but who don’t seem to be very much like Jesus at all. Perhaps that sounds judgmental, but I think it’s the right kind of judgmental that Jesus describes later in Matthew 7. It’s looking at the fruit of a man’s life to decide if he’s a good example to follow.
Now this is not a departure from Reformed theology, but it is a departure from believing that the path of study is the way to Christlikeness. I’m not that interested anymore in deepening my understanding of the Bible until I make more progress in obeying the parts I do understand. And in my ministry, I’m not that excited about doing another Bible study with you, I’m much more interested in having long, open and honest conversations with you about why we don’t obey what we’ve already learned in Bible study years ago. Is another Bible study really the need of the hour?
Maybe it is, for now I’m going to ask you to open your Bibles to Luke chapter 10 where I’ll begin reading in verse 25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
(to be continued…)